Would help control refugee numbersNational refugee law is needed [Archives:2004/740/Community]

May 24 2004

By Khaled Fansa
Senior Legal Consultant
UNHCR Sana'a
For The Yemen Times

Undoubtedly, the plight of refugees is an international problem. There are numerous countries that suffer from this problem as old as humankind.
Finding durable solutions to refugee problems is mainly maintained by full respect of human rights and in conformity with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.
In today's world, there are more than 22 million refugees and displaced persons, the majority of whom are from developing countries.
There is varied international treatment of this distressed category of persons who are searching for shelter and another area to call home, in order to maintain their survival and human dignity.
One may wonder” is any person transfers to another country to reside therein is a refugee even if he were an economic migrant?
The UN's 1951 Convention and it s1967 Protocol related to the status of refugees provide an answer that there is a specified definition to a refugee who is: wing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or who, not having nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unable to return to it.
Therefore, such a definition does not include those persons who leave their country for economic reasons and search for employment or due to medical reasons seeking health care or studies.

The legal status of refugees in Yemen:
As any group of people who reside in a place and at a given time, this group needs to be governed, given its legal status, their rights and obligations. Yet, what is the legal status of refugees in Yemen? And what are the regulations that govern entry, exit and presence of the recognized refugees on the Yemeni territories as stipulated in the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol signed by Yemen in 1980, which local authorities regard it imperative that Yemen being a signatory to such Convention as a corner stone in the human rights system?
No one may argue in the ancient generosity of the Yemeni people and government to receive refugees who are residing on its territories and that ancient customs are obvious in Yemen to welcome the alien and provide support and relief to those in need thereof and yet, there is an international instrument signed by the Yemeni Government which is not observed in the right legal framework meaning the National Refugee Law.
In order to comply filling in this legal gap, which has existed for the last 24 years, the cabinet has wisely passed on a resolution under No 46 dated 27/12/2003 to form a National Legal Committee to draft a special national refugee law which was welcomed by UNHCR and considered as a constructive step.
However, in order not dump the Yemeni territories with refugees and new arrivals specifically from the Horn of Africa region, one may wonder “Why there is a need to have a national law? Is it to bring more refugees?
In fact, it is totally the opposite since having a national refugee law will not only organize relations between the host country and the refugees, but puts limitations to those who are mistakenly considered as refugees while they are economic migrants.
It is broadly known that economic migrant can go back home at any given time, whereas a refugee is refrained from this right at least temporarily.
The National Refugee Law will be set out and coincide with 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol in addition to the international criteria related to protection.
It would also imply regulations and specific definitions for specific categories that do not exceed six when defining a refugee. At present, and the reality on the ground is that due to lack of having such a law, there is an overlapping and legal mixture between who is a refugee (the refugees population in Yemen in conformity with 1951 Convention is estimated to fifty thousand only, which is relatively a small number if compared with other countries that host about two million refugees in Iran as an example).

National law
The non-refugee number estimated by the government is about half a million of aliens. There might be other huge numbers of persons from the Horn of Africa in Yemen. Yet, registration would make identifying non-refugees as clearer and easier for he who is not registered would consequently be considered as non-refugee.
Undoubtedly, setting out a National Refugee Law would not cause increase in the number of refugees but totally the opposite. Considering Yemeni geographical and coastal areas would remain a target for those fleeing from persecution whether or not with existence of a National Refugee Law. Thus, what is the best for Yemen to give a free rein to the refuge status or to have a law that ensures security for Yemen based on legal regulations that oblige asylum seeker to adhere to?
In the absence of having such a law and registration exercise, we would see people wandering in the Yemeni territories without really knowing their status, identification or their real objectives whether they fled persecution or they have specific agenda wishing to execute as currently being the case.
The registration exercise when it takes place would enable the security apparatus of pursuing those individuals who are unregistered and who do not full within refugee definition or those who misuse this status and take procedures against them accordingly.
How about amending some of the positive laws that contradict with 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, is it sufficient to say legal resolution to the refugee problem has been set?
In fact, no, nevertheless amending some of the positive laws and systems are prerequisites for the government to fulfill its international obligations being a signatory to 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol and yet, there is a legal gap due to lack of having a government structure entrusted to take charge of the refugees situations.
It is undoable that following up on some fifty thousand refugees by the existing department at the Immigration Authority with 3 or 4 persons only.
Will Yemen be left alone facing the refuge plight after setting out the Refugee National Law?
Of course, not. Although protection of refugee rests with governments and countries, yet UNHCR would always be there as the main support to the government efforts and reinforcement of human rights represented by provision of: support, assistance and technical and legal expertise .
Yemen would be able then to set up qualified national cadre/personnel to deal with refugees. By doing so, this would be a step forward for bringing up human being to the level required in this generous country.
There is a differentiation between legal procedures as legislations, registration and other procedures related to assisting refugees. In this connection, UNHCR on behalf of the world community, would pursue its commitments by means of supporting the Yemeni Government in dealing with refugees.

* Translated by:
A.M.Abboud, External Relations Assistant, UNHCR